Sunday, January 27, 2013

Elizabeth I's Other Tutor

Among the Tudor tutors, I've read about John Cheke and Roger Ascham, but BBC History Magazine introduces another tutor of Elizabeth I--and he's one who might have influenced her religious beliefs:

Elizabeth's Faithful Tutor

Simon Adams and David Scott Gehring explain how the Virgin Queen's little-known teacher may have influenced the religious policies of her reign

Elizabeth I enjoys the reputation of being the best-educated of British queens and, as a result, her schooling has been the subject of much discussion.

Her most famous tutor was the Cambridge academic Roger Ascham, who has left the only account of what she studied. However, Ascham’s time with her was brief, from mid-1548 until the beginning of 1550. He was preceded by his pupil and friend, William Grindal, who taught Elizabeth from 1545 until he died of the plague in January 1548.

Grindal and Ascham taught the future queen Latin and Greek, but they were not her only tutors. Giovanni Battista Castiglione (who later became a groom of her Privy Chamber) taught her Italian, and Jean Belmain taught her French, as he did her brother, Edward VI.

The received account of Elizabeth’s education will now have to be completely revised, for she had another tutor in the classical languages, a man who actually served longer than either Grindal or Ascham. He was Johannes Spithovius (John Spithoff), also known as Monasteriensis, from his probable place of birth, somewhere near M√ľnster in north-western Germany.

Spithovius was initially a pupil of the Lutheran reformer, Philip Melanchthon, but he matriculated at the University of Copenhagen in 1542 and was appointed Professor Paedigogicus in 1545. He came to England in 1549 with recommendations from Melanchthon and others to Archbishop Cranmer. Cranmer, together with the Strasbourg reformer Martin Bucer (who had just taken refuge in England himself), recommended Spithovius to the princess in the summer of 1549. . . .

Spithovius records a conversation in February with Sir Thomas Smith over forms of worship. According to a much-debated policy memorandum, the ‘Device for the Alteration of Religion’, Smith was to be appointed the chair of a committee to review the order of worship in advance of the parliament of 1559.

He was also authorised to consult with other learned men. Since no evidence that the committee had actually met has been discovered, scholarly opinion has generally dismissed the proposal as abortive. Thanks to Spithovius’s report it can now be established that the committee did exist.

The fact that it was still at work after the parliament opened may explain why the crown did not introduce the bills for the religious legislation at the beginning of the session.

Elizabeth held Spithovius in considerable regard and his possible influence on her opens up a range of new questions. Though few records of his period as tutor (1549–53) have been left to us, we know that this was a psychologically formative chapter in Elizabeth’s life. And, although we have no clear idea of what he taught her, his presence in her household is further evidence of the cosmopolitan nature of her education.

He certainly increased her understanding of the Lutheran world and she may have gained a reading knowledge of German from him. In view of the complexities of the 1559 religious settlement, it is no less interesting that Smith asked Spithovius about Danish and Saxon practice regarding religious ceremonies.

Without question, whatever the ultimate explanation of the settlement, it was not made in ignorance of Lutheran opinion.

English Historical ReviewFor a limited time you may access the article (and download a .pdf) in The English Historical Review on which this article is based.

The curious aspect of this discovery of Spithovius' influence on the Elizabethan settlement is that his influence was Lutheran--while the Thirty-Nine Articles reflect a greater Reformed or Calvinist influence, at least in soteriology. In fact, the article concludes on a less than conclusive note--except when it comes to Catholicism:

Spithovius’ membership of Elizabeth’s Edwardian household, together with his conversation with Smith, will undoubtedly revive the question of Elizabeth the quasi-Lutheran. Certainly, her direct exposure to Germanic Lutheranism was—at the minimum—far more extensive than heretofore thought. Yet, whatever Smith’s wider review of the prayer-book involved, it was not embodied in the settlement. Any conclusions about the conversation must also take into account the two important statements Elizabeth made on the future settlement in February: the evasive response to Vergerio on the Confession of Augsburg and the Lenten sermons. The choice of the Lenten preachers was not a casual one, and Spithovius was not alone in seeing the sermons, delivered before Elizabeth and a large public audience, as a declaration that no compromise with Catholicism was intended.

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